Queens cancer survivors celebrate five years of survivorship at Celebrate Life Event in Chicago

Rita Quevedo, left, and Pat Basu, MD, MBA, President and Chief Executive Officer of Cancer Treatment Centers of America Global, Inc., plant a tree in honor of cancer survivorship.

Sylvia Quijano-Martinez was terrified. After being diagnosed with cancer in July 2014, she thought of her father, who had died of cancer. She thought her fate would be the same.

But five years later, her early prediction couldn’t be less true.

“I thought I was going to die,” said Quijano-Martinez, 54. “But thankfully my sister was here and said that that was my father’s journey and this will be your own journey.”

This month, Quijano-Martinez, of Sunnyside, and Rita Quevedo, of South Ozone Park, celebrated five years of cancer survivorship at the 31st annual Celebrate Life event in Zion, Ill., an hour north of Chicago. The event, hosted by the Cancer Treatment Centers of America Chicago, was a celebration of life, attended by over 100 cancer survivors from all across the country.

Five-year survivors walked down a red carpet as caregivers and fellow survivors cheered them on. They planted trees, one named after each survivor in attendance. Five doves, one to represent each year of survivorship, were released from their cages. It was a day of love and appreciation, Quevedo said, and the sun was shining through out it all.

“The way they presented it to us was with a lot of prestige and honor,” said Quevedo, 56.

“It was very cheerful and everyone was very happy,” Quijano-Martinez said. “We were celebrating life. It was a very good feeling.”

Both Quijano-Martinez and Quevedo have been making regular trips from Queens to Chicago for cancer treatment since 2014. The Cancer Treatment Centers of America Chicago, and its centers in other cities across the country, specialize in survivorship cancer care. It does not have a location in New York.

Despite the distance, Quevedo enjoys both the trip to Chicago and the treatment she receives when she arrives.

“They care for us as humans,” she said. “If you do anything with love, it’s going to be very special.”

The treatment in Chicago and the Celebrate Life event stand in stark contrast to the day Quevedo was first diagnosed, she said.

“It was a horrible experience,” Quevedo said. “You lose track of your surroundings. It’s black, completely black.”

“But it’s part of the journey,” she said.

This weekend’s celebration was also part of the journey. And both Queens women were beyond happy to be there.

“It was a very unforgettable day for all the survivors of five years,” Quevedo said. “It was so exciting.”

Quevedo’s daughter joined in on the celebration and as Quevedo made her way down the red carpet, her daughter cheered her on. They wore matching shirts, celebrating survivorship. Quijano-Martinez, who wore a blue dress down the red carpet, was accompanied by her mother.

Both Quevedo and Quijano-Martinez have returned to Queens and hope to bring some of the hope they felt over the weekend back home.

“It’s always good to have that positivity, on any level,” Quijano-Martinez said. “You can bring that back to your community.”

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